When you hear New England in relation to beer, your mind probably goes to the region on the east coast of the US and the hazy IPAs it gave rise to. But halfway between Brisbane and Sydney, just a few hundred kilometres inland from Coffs Harbour, is Australia’s own New England - a rich agricultural region with no clearly defined boundaries. And there in Uralla, right on the New England Highway, is New England Brewing Co, a brewery whose beer knows no clearly defined boundaries.
Small breweries didn’t exactly thrive in regional Australia for most of the 20th century. But the seed of New England Brewing was planted in founder Ben Rylands’ mind during a 2003 trip to Saxony in Germany, where the locals where big supporters of the regionally focused Privatbrauerei Schwerter. The question was whether a small regional brewery could be replicated in rural Australia.
A decade later, Ben answered that question by opening NEBC in Uralla and leading the charge in bringing brewing back to the New England area. Opening the brewery in a former wool store – fine wool being one of the backbones of the local economy – and putting a flying ram as its logo was Ben’s way of reinforcing that New England Brewing is firmly part of its region.
The beating heart of the brewery is a 10hL brewhouse from the 1980s; aside from some new tanks, the gear is basically the same as it was almost 40 years ago. The team uses this tried-and-tested equipment to great effect for both traditional and innovative styles.
On the traditional side, the open top fermenters are ideal for nailing Belgian beer styles, and the climate of the area - mild summers and cooler winters - provides great conditions for giving lagers the time they need to really blossom. But the crew have their eyes on the future as well as a respect for the past, which you can see in the releases of hazy hop bombs, saisons with a modern twist, and sours with fruit from local producers. When you factor in their tight core beers - a punchy pale ale, a hazy but bitter IPA, and a classic English brown ale - as well as their local collabs, strong barrel program and unexpected flurry of farmhouse ales, you start to realise just what a rare and beautiful beast New England Brewing is. Doubly so in regional Australia where access to good beer isn’t always a given.
In the early days, New England Brewing’s beers were only available in the local area area as pubs, clubs, bars and bottle shops in the New England area stocked the goods. Nowadays, people from all over can jump on NEBC’s online store and get their hands on tinnies from the Uralla brewery. But the freshest beer you’ll get is directly from the brewery’s cellar door, which has the full core range and seasonals available on tap as well as takeaways.
Renovations in 2021 made the bar an even more comfy place to while away the hours with a few schooners and a small selection of locally made cheese, smoked sausage and jerky - not to mention food truck fare if you’re there at the right time.
If you’re holidaying in the area, be sure to enjoy the book shops, national parks, and visit the New England Regional Art Museum (another collaborator with NEBC). But if you're just passing through and can only squeeze in a single stop to get a taste of the region, New England Brewing Co is the way to go.